By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published December 10, 2020 | En Español
ATLANTA–Among the faces in “Angels Unawares” are indigenous people, tired parents clutching children, Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, the Holy Family, those from war-torn countries. Above the 140 refugees crowded on the raft are the wings of an angel.
This bronze sculpture of four tons and 20-feet long is a monument to migration. Created by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz, it is scheduled to be displayed on the campus of Holy Spirit Preparatory School in Atlanta starting Jan. 7.
Its name derives from the New Testament’s Hebrews 13:2: “Be welcoming to strangers, many have entertained angels unawares.”
Among the passengers are Mother Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants.
The sculpture’s visit comes as Georgia has an increasing number of residents born outside the United States. Nearly 1 million Peach State residents have migrated to the United States from around the world, but especially Latin America. About 400 households worship at Centro Catolico del Espiritu Santo, Holy Spirit Church’s mission. It draws families from Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, Venezuela and El Salvador.
Carolyn and Neil Johnson are leaders in the Georgia chapter of Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, as well as 15-year members of Holy Spirit parish. The organization is sponsoring the statue’s visit. They befriended Schmalz a few years ago.
With Atlanta’s diverse culture, the artist and the Johnsons felt hosting the statue here would continue to bring forth the important message of inclusiveness and hospitality to all, said Carolyn Johnson in an email.
“At the sculpture’s installation in Rome, Pope Frances said he wanted the sculpture ‘to remind everyone of the evangelical challenge of hospitality.’ We hope to do the same,” she said.
It is a second casting of a piece commissioned by Pope Francis and created by Schmalz, who has also received attention for his Homeless Jesus sculpture. One of the artist’s pieces sits outside the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Atlanta.
He has also created Black Christian sculptures. Known as “The Atlanta Jesus,” his life-size crucifix depicts an African American representation of Jesus on the cross at the Archdiocese of Atlanta headquarters.
The original casting of “Angels Unawares” was installed in St. Peter’s Square and unveiled by Pope Francis on Sept. 29, 2019, the 105th observance of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.
This sculpture highlights the church’s teachings on immigration, particularly welcoming the stranger and celebrating the contributions of migrants and refugees.
The replica statue is on a national tour from its permanent home at the Catholic University of America. Its permanent installation will be part of the 2021 World Day of Migrants and Refugees.
While in Atlanta, the sculpture will be open to the public daily from Jan. 7 to Feb. 3.
For directions and additional information, visit www.hsccatl.com/angels. The church is located at 4465 Northside Dr. NW, Atlanta.